The Eastern girls basketball team rallied back from a 13-point first half deficit to earn its first district final berth since 2006 after posting a 58-49 victory over Fairfield during a Division IV district semifinal contest at Jackson High School.
The second-seeded Lady Eagles (20-2) — who finished eighth in the final D-4 AP poll — struggled mightily out of the gates against the third-seeded Lady Lions, connecting on just 3-of-13 field goals in the first quarter to find themselves trapped in an 18-7 hole after eight minutes of play.
FHS (10-9) then extended its lead to 22-9 at the 6:23 mark of the second period, which proved to be the biggest edge for either team on the evening.
And that’s when the Green and White finally broke out of their funk.
EHS went on a small 5-2 run over the next 1:37 to pull within 24-14 at the 4:46 mark, then held the guests without a field goal while closing the half on an impressive 14-2 charge to take a slim 28-26 lead into the intermission.
Neither team was particularly efficient in the opening 16 minutes of play. Eastern connected on just 12-of-30 field goal attempts and committed 13 turnovers before halftime, while the Lady Lions were just 10-of-23 overall from the floor and also committed 12 turnovers.
FHS held a 17-14 rebounding edge at the break, but the Lady Eagles claimed an 8-6 advantage on the offensive glass.
Fairfield struck first in the second half, as Lauren Bowman canned a trifecta to reclaim a 29-28 advantage at the 7:38 mark of the third.
Both teams then went scoreless until the 4:34 mark, when Audrionna Pullins scored on a layup — sparking a 6-0 run to give the hosts a 34-29 edge with 3:09 remaining in the third.
Chelsey Riddle ended a 5:05 scoreless drought for Fairfield with a layup at 2:33, which ignited a 9-3 surge the rest of the period — allowing FHS to take a slim 38-37 lead into the finale.
Bowman extended that lead to 41-37 with a trifecta at 7:19, which proved to be the largest for the Red and White the rest of the way.
Eastern ran off four consecutive points over the next 35 seconds to knot things up at 41, but FHS took one final lead at 6:31 after an old-fashioned three-point play by Riddle gave the guests a 44-41 edge.
The Lady Eagles countered with three straight points to again tie things up at 44 with 4:35 remaining, then Emeri Connery gave Eastern the lead for good with a layup at the 4:03 mark for a 46-44 edge.
Fairfield closed back to within two points (48-46) with 3:34 left in regulation and were later within three (52-49) with 1:01 remaining, but EHS closed the final minute on a 6-0 run — including 4-for-4 at the free throw line — to secure a the program’s first-ever tournament trip to the Convocation Center at Ohio University in Athens.
Afterward second-year EHS coach John Burdette was a little frustrated about the first half performance, but he was pleased with the way his team dug down deep when it needed to down the stretch.
He also believes that everyone came away with a learning experience.
“We talked at halftime about what we did wrong and made some adjustments,” Burdette commented. “The girls stepped it up and played a lot better in the second half, particularly with their intensity.
“I’m glad that we are moving on, and hopefully we will learn from our mistakes and do a little better at the Convo.”
Eastern — which last played in a district championship game in 2006 against Waterford, a 44-39 loss — will take on a familiar foe in fourth-seeded South Webster in the district final on Wednesday, March 3, at 6:15 p.m.
The Lady Jeeps — who defeated No. 2 New Boston 55-35 in the first semifinal — have eliminated Eastern from the district tournament the last two seasons. SWHS won the 2008 matchup by a 65-31 margin and also posted a 65-48 victory last year.
Those outcomes are well known by most members of this current squad they have been here for both of those setbacks. But after posting one of the school’s best seasons in history this winter, Burdette is hoping that one more accolade is within reach.
“I know they will be excited, they are always excited. I would prefer to see them prepared and ready to play,” Burdette said. “We talked earlier in the year about wanting to win a district title. If they want to come ready to play ball, it could happen. It just depends if they want to come ready to play four quarters.”
The Lady Eagles finished the night 22-of-53 from the field for 42 percent, including 1-of-6 from three-point territory for 17 percent. The hosts also committed 22 turnovers in the contest, four less than Fairfield’s 26 miscues.
Connery — who scored 12 fourth quarter points — led the Lady Eagles with 17 points, followed by Audrionna Pullins with 13 and Beverly Maxson with 12 markers. Pullins also had a double-double effort with a game-high 11 rebounds.
Kasey Turley was next with six points, while Brenna Holter and Allie Rawson both added five apiece to the winning cause. EHS was 13-of-20 at the free throw line for 65 percent.
Fairfield was 18-of-43 from the field for 42 percent, including 2-of-7 from three-point range for 29 percent. FHS also won the battle on the boards by a 32-24 overall margin and claimed a 13-12 edge on the offensive glass.
Riddle paced the Lady Lions with a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Bowman added 12 markers. Gabrielle Boone also chipped in nine points. FHS was 11-of-21 at the charity stripe for 52 percent.
The Lady Eagles last won a district championship in 2004. South Webster’s last district title came last winter.